ARLINGTON HEIGHTS -- Earlier this year, CAMMACK and STORMIN ELLE each returned to the racetrack after being laid off for over a year. CAMMACK returned at Tampa Bay Downs in February, was second in his first start back, and then had rattled off a pair of wins leading into today. STORMIN ELLE's return had been a little rockier. She finished off the board in an allowance at Keeneland in April, then was out of the money again in allowance-optional company here at Arlington.
Today, each of these Illinois-bred six-year-olds rewarded their connections' patience with a stakes win.
Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap: STORMIN ELLE Stalks and Pounces
Go back two or three years, and STORMIN ELLE was a rising star in the Illinois-bred ranks. She won three of her four starts at Arlington at age three, in 2013. Off a third-place finish in allowance company in her four-year-old debut, she was sent off the favourite in the 2014 Isaac Murphy Handicap. Though she was fifth that day, she won an allowance in her next start, and finished second in an allowance at Churchill later that year. Then, she dropped off the radar for a year and a half.
In the time being, LOVELY LOYREE was rising to prominence in the Illinois-bred turf division. Third in a division of the 2014 Hatoof Stakes, she won the Stickney Handicap against Illinois-preferred company last year, and finished third behind Tepin in a pair of graded stakes earlier this year. The bettors flocked to LOVELY LOYREE; she opened 1/9, and went off the 2/5 choice. CABANA, last year's Mike Spellman Handicap winner, was the consistent second betting choice, and went off 7/2. Unlike her state-bred stakes try two years ago, this time STORMIN ELLE was relatively ignored by the public. She went off at 10/1 in the field of seven.
CABANA broke nicely, and gained the early lead along the rail. STORMIN ELLE also broke sharply, and settled just to her outside. LOVELY LOYREE, typically on or near the lead, broke a step slower than the rest of the field. She was soon near the front of the main pack, but it was CABANA left to dictate terms. STORMIN ELLE stalked the defending champion through a quarter in 24.72, and a half in 49.39.
Into the far turn, STORMIN ELLE made her run on CABANA. CABANA gave resistance into the stretch, but passing the three-sixteenths pole, she folded. STORMIN ELLE stayed on strongly. LOVELY LOYREE kept trying on the outside, but could only get within a length of STORMIN ELLE by the time the wire came. SMILING GAMBLER, near the back of the pack early, rallied stoutly down the stretch to take third -- half a length behind LOVELY LOYREE, and a neck in front of fourth-place FLEET ENCOUNTER. PRADO'S SWEET RIDE, ROSIE MY ROSIE, and CABANA completed the order of finish. TAPNFIRE was a trainer's scratch.
STORMIN ELLE is a six-year-old mare by Stormello out of the El Prado mare Elle Belle. She is trained by Wayne Catalano, and was ridden to victory by meet-leading jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr. Bred in Illinois by Triple C Thorobred and Dick Lossen, she is campaigned by owners Joseph and Don Cochonour. The Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap was STORMIN ELLE's fifth win in 13 career starts, and her first career stakes win. The $31,634 winner's share of today's purse brought her career earnings to $170,766.
"Today, the plan was to have her forwardly placed," recalled STORMIN ELLE's jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr., "whether it was on the lead, second, or third. I broke, I sat off that other filly [CABANA], and she sat very comfortably. Everything went to plan, but they had her ready today. When I called on her, she exploded. She pinned her ears back, and she went to run. I thought she would be hard to catch, the way she was running down the lane. Very happy to pick up this one like that." Valdivia had picked up the mount on STORMIN ELLE today, though he had previously ridden her in her Keeneland return in April.
"It feels nice to be back home, in the winners' circle," proclaimed trainer Wayne Catalano after STORMIN ELLE's victory. He explained that the Spellman had been the goal for his mare all along. "Coming into this, third race off the layoff, and the way she was training, I was very confident, and I was very happy with it. It turned out to be a good call all the way around." Though STORMIN ELLE had been up for the optional $40,000 claiming tag on May 22, Catalano explained, "Because of the long layoff, sometimes you've got to know when to hold them, and know when to fold them. I told Mr. Joe [Cochonour, co-owner], this was the time to take a shot, let's get another race under her." Catalano indicated that he has not identified his next target for STORMIN ELLE.
According to trainer Michele Boyce, second-place LOVELY LOYREE "ran her race today -- the break killed her. She's always 1-2 out of there, and she got left." Boyce has not yet determined LOVELY LOYREE's next race. Francisco Torres, rider of LOVELY LOYREE, agreed that the break had an impact. "She kind of took a step back when they kicked it, so that was the difference in that race."
STORMIN ELLE stopped the clock in 1:43.05 for a mile and a sixteenth over firm turf, and paid her backers $22.60 to win. The exacta with LOVELY LOYREE underneath (3-8) returned $24.00 for a $1 wager. A $0.50 trifecta with SMILING GAMBLER in third (3-8-7) came back with $141.85. The superfecta with FLEET ENCOUNTER in fourth (3-8-7-5) paid $153.56 for each dime on the combination.
Black Tie Affair Handicap: CAMMACK Lives Up to His Legacy
Not only was Addison Cammack a longtime presence in Chicago's equine community, but he was close friends with trainer Chris Block. After today's Black Tie Affair Handicap, Block remembered: "The day he died, I walked into the hospital, I told him, 'Addison, we're going to name a horse after you, and it's going to be Fort Prado's half brother.'"
Fort Prado was a multiple graded stakes winner, and a four-time winner of the Black Tie Affair Handicap. Little did Block, or anyone, know how good this half-brother would be: CAMMACK was just a yearling at the time, still a year and a half away from a starting gate.
Four and a half years after Block promised to name a horse for Addison Cammack, after nineteen races punctuated by almost a year and a half off the racetrack, that namesake is now a stakes winner.
Fitting for a trainer who had already won the Black Tie Affair six times, the race had Block's fingerprints all over it. CAMMACK was one of four entries from his shedrow, though it was 9/5 shot PEEJ who was most fancied at the windows. Stablemate SWEET LUCA, wheeling back after a third-place finish in the Addison Cammack Handicap last Saturday, was the 5/1 second choice when the money settled. BOLD RALLY, the longest shot of the group at 9/1, completed the foursome from his barn. Three others in the field were previously in Block's barn. That group included FIVE GREEN STARS, who opened the 2/1 favourite, though settled to go off the 7/1 fifth choice. REVOLT and A STEP AHEAD had also previously been in the Block barn.
The latch sprung, and CAMMACK came out sharply. HE'S DANN GOOD, the one other horse in the field with a penchant for the lead, sent from the outside and prompted the pace. PEEJ, SWEET LUCA, and EMPIRESTRIKESAGAIN tracked them in the next flight, with the rest further back. CAMMACK went comfortably despite the company to his outside, and carved out relatively soft early fractions: 25.29 for the quarter, 49.92 for the half.
Through the far turn, the stalking throng began to gain. HE'S DANN GOOD, SWEET LUCA, and EMPIRESTRIKESAGAIN all tried to advance, leaving PEEJ bottled up behind them. CAMMACK had more to give, and opened up daylight on that trio in shallow stretch. PEEJ found running room entering the final furlong, and took aim at his stablemade. By that point, the closers were coming as well: REVOLT on the outside, and FIVE GREEN STARS on the inside. But, CAMMACK proved tough -- too tough. He held onto his advantage, crossing the wire half a length ahead of PEEJ. REVOLT was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third, with FIVE GREEN STARS another half-length back. BOLD RALLY, SWEET LUCA, A STEP AHEAD, HE'S DANN GOOD, AMEN KITTEN, and EMPIRESTRIKESAGAIN completed the order of finish. REIGNING CATFISH was a trainer's scratch.
CAMMACK is a six-year-old gelding by Giant's Causeway out of the Fortunate Prospect mare Fort Pond. This makes him a half-brother to Fort Prado (El Prado), a four-time winner of the Black Tie Affair Handicap (2005-2007, 2009). He is trained by Chris Block, now a seven-time winner of the Black Tie Affair Handicap. CAMMACK was bred in Illinois by Team Block, who campaigns him in their silks. The race was CAMMACK's first career stakes win, his third victory in a row, and the fifth of his 18-start career. The $31,037 winner's share of the purse brought his career tally to $142,304.
The Black Tie Affair was CAMMACK's fourth start this year, after being off the racetrack from November 2014 until February of this year. "We knew he'd come back," said Block, "just, we're a very patient ownership group. We don't like to push anything too quick. So, we gave him a little extra time, let him mature, castrated him. We knew we would just concentrate on 2016. And, he came back a different horse: more of a confident horse, more of an aggressive horse." Despite his improved form, placing CAMMACK in the stakes race was a Plan B for Block. "We were in this allowance race. We entered him, and the race didn't go. I told Dad [David Block, principal of owner-breeder Team Block], 'We've got to go in here. He's at the top of his game right now -- anything's possible.' When I opened up the form and didn't see a ton of speed, I said he might find himself up there."
The victory was special to Block for several reasons. "Fort Prado was one of the best we've ever had -- he's like the matriarch [sic] of Team Block -- to have his brother do this. Then, on top of it, my dear, dear, dear friend he's named after, Addison Cammack...it's really special to me for that."
Jockey Francisco Torres had come in to ride Lovely Loyree in the Spellman, and rode CAMMACK for the first time in the Black Tie Affair. "I was just blessed and lucky to pick up this mount, and it paid off for me. He is one of those kinds of horses, you can look at his performance, and see how he likes to run, and it worked out. He broke sharp -- I just controlled the pace."
Block does not yet have specific targets for any of his four horses in the Black Tie Affair. He did note that CAMMACK would likely stay at a mile and a sixteenth, though kept open some possibility that PEEJ could be under consideration for longer turf stakes at Arlington.
CAMMACK finished the mile and a sixteenth over firm turf in 1:42.82, and rewarded his win bettors with $16.40. The exacta over his stablemate PEEJ (3-4) paid $26.90. A $0.50 trifecta with REVOLT in the third slot (3-4-1) returned $90.25. The superfecta with FIVE GREEN STARS in the lowest rung (3-4-1-6) came back with $107.16 for each dime on the combination.
Photographs courtesy of Four Footed Fotos.
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